Cataclysm is, for some reason, a particular favourite among new writers, especially on the fringe. Often it leads to sensationalism and shallow explorations of quite serious issues. Therefore, I was apprehensive about Pause, given the play’s plot outline of a woman coping with her son’s head injury leaving him in a vegetative state. However, Serena Haywood proves that she is a writer of brilliant insight by creating a piece that is incredibly honest and human. Couple this with a great production from director TutkuBarbaros and new company Moustache Contraption, this is an hour of touching, endearing, and heartbreaking drama.
The great success of the piece is that, given the tragic circumstance, it doesn’t wallow. The portrayal of Chris’s mother, Victoria, and Chris’ close childhood friend and lover, Mark, are incredibly down to earth. Instead of finding them cursing the air, shaking their fists, and generally being unreasonably grumpy at everyone and everything, they act like people who deal with this exact situation day in and day out; they try to converse normally with the patient as if nothing had happened, despite receiving nothing but a blank response; they try to come to terms with this unwelcomed situation; and they tell themselves little lies to get them through the day. Sometimes, what they say is cynical, sarcastic, and funny. As much as there are tears in this play, there is just as much humour in these everyday people, be it mistaking Tom Daley for David Beckham, or lamenting the decline of the Trio chocolate bar; Haywood’s characters are incredibly real.
As the narrative switches back and forth between before and after the accident, you quickly realise that this play is not just a vignette on adversity. It fasts becomes an essay on loss, deceit, and delusion. Chris keeps the real situation of his university education from his mother, and Victoria is also kept blissfully unaware of the depths of the relationship between Chris and Mark. When this is put into the context of Chris’ accident, the theme of lies and secrets become something profound and affecting; the pain it causes Mark in not being able to openly express his grief, and Victoria’s hopeless optimism for the recovery of her son.
Because of this astute approach to portraying people and a very real life narrative, by not over-egging the drama, the parts where the play is quietly tragic are absolutely devastating. I confess, I was touched to the point where I was moved to tears.
Barbaros directs the show with brilliant flair, and commands an all round great production. Especially notable is the use of light and James Lawrence’s sound design to add variety and atmosphere. Particularly effective is the use of a single pulsating spot light during the play’s climax, accompanied by deafening sound. This created a compelling sense of drama despite the size and simplicity of the Theatre Collection’s space and sparseness of set.
Ryan Wichert, as Chris, and Samuel Casely, as Mark, also give outstanding performances. They share an excellent and believable chemistry when it comes to their juvenile antics, solid camaraderie, and conspicuous, but tender, sexuality. Wichert is also incredibly commendable in his portrayal of someone in a vegetative state, producing a well studied portrait of someone with such a severe disability, rather than relying on shallow caricature.
The only criticism I can give is that some of the solo passages are a little contrived. Characters rattle through several stages of emotions and reasoning in the space of several minutes, and it’s here where the language feels a little forced. But even so, the comprehensive scope of internal conflicts is insightful none the less, and all are still delivered with fantastic conviction.
Haywood and Barbaros have shown how drama and tragedy should be done on the fringe, putting many pieces and productions of new writing to shame. A brilliant and heartfelt piece, and an intense and fulfilling evening out.
Pause plays at the Theatre Collection, London, NW1 9BH, until 25 August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, or to find out more about the festival, visit www.camdenfringe.com.